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MAV Opinion Editorial - How councils are supporting their communities through coronavirus

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What an extraordinary and challenging year it has been for Victorian communities so far. First, the bushfires that did so much damage to parts of the east and north-east of our state, and now an unprecedented global health crisis in the form of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. These really are testing times.

More than ever I am grateful to have this opportunity to share with you a snapshot of what Victorian councils are doing to support communities through these difficult times. Councils work for the benefit and wellbeing of their local communities and are here to help.

In every newspaper, every tv and radio news update, and in any social media feed, it’s easy to find coronavirus stories that are frightening and confronting. It seems impossible to overstate the seriousness of the situation we all now find ourselves in.

Every single one of us has a part to play in slowing the spread of the virus. It is incumbent on all of us to heed the directions of the Chief Health Officer and to do the right thing by staying home as much as possible. This is critical not only to protect older and vulnerable community members, but also for the thousands of Victorian healthcare and other workers who are on the frontline responding to this crisis.

Like many, if not all, Victorian businesses and service providers, councils have had to rapidly adjust their operations to ensure that critical community services and assets can be maintained throughout the crisis. Community and employee health and safety remain councils’ top priority as they work to redeploy staff and find alternative ways to deliver valued services.

Many of councils’ critical services are continuing, including maternal and child health services, childhood immunisations, childcare, outreach to vulnerable community members, and aged services such as meals on wheels. Recycling and waste services are continuing, as are environmental and public health services. Council offices may be closed to the public but rest assured councils’ dedicated employees are still working away.

In accordance with the advice and directions from State authorities, councils have had to temporarily close many much-loved community facilities. We know that the loss of neighbourhood hubs, including libraries, recreation centres and playgrounds has been hard for many. Like you, councils look forward to the day, hopefully in the not too distant future, when we can welcome you back in.

In the meantime, councils are working hard to develop and deliver alternative ways for you to still access the benefits these facilities provide. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Across the state there are any number of businesses – small, medium and large - adapting their ways to ensure they’re complying with the new requirements while still delivering their services.  It’s testament to our collective resilience that so many are innovating so quickly. Councils too are embracing new ways of working to ensure that communities are informed, supported and connected.

From delivery of online library, community and family support services to the development of campaigns and platforms to share stories of positivity, resilience, community spirit and kindness, councils remain committed to working with and looking after their communities.

We also recognise that coronavirus is leading to job losses and economic downturn that will put a lot of families, households and businesses under significant financial pressure. Please know that councils have a range of options, including the ability to consider hardship cases in relation to rates, to assist individuals and businesses in financial difficulty.

Victorian councils proudly employ thousands of Victorians dedicated to serving their local communities. We are part of the community and we are here to support you and help you through these challenging times.  We are all in this together and together we will get through this.

Please stay home. Stay well. And be kind.

Cr Coral Ross
MAV President

This Opinion Editorial was published on 4 April 2020 in the Ballarat Courier, Bendigo Advertiser, Border Mail, Shepparton News and the Warrnambool Standard.